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Reviews Old Jules Country. A Selection from Old Jules and Thirty Years of Writing Since the Book Was Published. By Mari Sandoz. (New York: Hastings House, 1965. $4.95.) In her acceptance speech for the National Achievement Award of the Chicago Corral of The Westerners in 1955, Mari Sandoz referred approvingly to books that “didn’t have long introductions, and weren’t fooling the reader— it was clear what they were doing all the time.” But, as we know from her own books, she had no objection to forewords, and this anthology certainly could use one. With seventeen volumes as well as a number of uncollected pieces to choose from, a statement from the anonymous editor of his princi­ ples of selection would seem indispensable. As it is, there are no editorial guidelines and the only clues as to what the book is supposed to be “doing all the time” are found on the front flap of the jacket: Old Jules, Mari Sandoz’ widely acclaimed biography of her pioneering father,1 was published in 1935. To celebrate the 30th anniversary of that event,2 Old Jules Country offers a generous sam­ pling from Miss Sandoz’ nonfiction writing. . . . This collection pro­ vides a stimulating introduction for readers not yet acquainted with her work. For her extensive following, it offers the opportunity for a satisfying reappraisal of her over-all achievement. Since there can be few readers of this magazine who are unfamiliar with Miss Sandoz’ work, it is the concluding statement from the jacket that I will be mainly concerned with here. For the record, however: Yes, Old Jules Country does comprise an introduction to Mari Sandoz, though it seems to me that any of her books now in print —uncut —would be a better one. Why I think so will, I hope, emerge from the following discussion. For Mari Sandoz, as for every major writer, the only fair, not to say satisfying, appraisal of her accomplishment must derive from an examination of her entire canon. The author herself felt very strongly about this: in a 1 Mari Sandoz considered her father “not a pioneer so much as a frontiersman. He had the skill, the violence, and the courage to cope with the unknown elements of a wild country; but not the patience for the dull road of the pioneer. . . . He was a frontiersman who opened the way for the pioneers who lived with him.” (Mari Sandoz to Mamie J. Meredith, 1936, day and month not given; quoted in Mari Sandoz, Hostiles and Friendlies [Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1959], p. 2). 2 The title page and the copyright page of Old Jules Country carry the date 1965. However, the book did not appear on the bookstands until several months after Mari Sandoz’ death, March 10, 1966. 224 Western American Literature 1957 letter she expressed herself in the most emphatic terms about the neces­ sity for basing any critical evaluation on the whole body of her work.3 The inadequacy of the present collection for a “satisfying reappraisal” is already apparent from the jacket description, for this volume is confined to nonfiction, and any serious estimate of Miss Sandoz’ over-all achievement can hardly ignore her fiction (eight novels, a novelette, an da dozen or more short stories). Not only are there revealing relationships between her fiction and nonfiction, but two of the short novels — Winter Thunder (1954) and The Horsecatcher (1957) — are exemplary of their kind, and will, I believe, con­ tinue to maintain their high place in the literature of the American West. Among the other novels, it seems to me that Slogum House (1937) has never received its due, possibly because its appearance shocked many readers. It will be interesting, at any rate, to see how it is assessed when Miss Sandoz’ writings receive the full-dress critical appraisal that they deserve. Even supposing we forget about the novels and stories and confine our­ selves to the nonfiction writing, we would still be unable to gain a true idea of the scope and quality of this body of Mari Sandoz’ work from Old Jules Country. This will be evident if we consider the portion of the book — some...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-7142
Print ISSN
0043-3462
Pages
pp. 223-227
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-04
Open Access
No
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